Danish Cartoonist Charged in Jordan 'I Don't Allow Fanatics to Intimidate Me'

After drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a lit bomb in his turban in 2005, Kurt Westergaard has lived under constant police protection. Now Jordan wants to prosecute the Dane. In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview he discusses the legal summons and his anger.

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard's satirical drawing of the Prophet Muhammad has changed his life.

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard's satirical drawing of the Prophet Muhammad has changed his life.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Westergaard, I am assuming you're not planning a vacation in Jordan this year?

Westergaard: No, I don't think so!

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The prosecutor general in Amman has issued a subpoena against you. He wants you to face a court in Jordan for the cartoon you drew of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.

Westergaard: Yes, but so far I haven't received an official summons to court. I have already contacted the Jordanian Embassy in Berlin and asked them if they could inform me what the punishment would be. If I went to Amman would I be arrested as soon as I put my foot on Jordanian soil? But I never got an answer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You would likely be apprehended were you to travel to Jordan...

Westergaard: Yes, I suppose so.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What would you tell a Jordanian court in your defense?

Westergaard: I would try to explain that the cartoon was not aimed at Islam as a whole but aimed at the terrorists, who use part of Islam as their spiritual ammunition. You could also say that the terrorists have taken the Prophet as their hostage.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Jordanian government has passed a new law expressly forbidding the defamation of the Prophet Muhammad -- a direct reaction to your caricature and the others. There seems little doubt that you'd be convicted.

Westergaard: Yes, it has been very difficult to get Muslims to understand my intentions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It seems likely that other countries in the region would be risky for you to travel in as well.

Westergaard: I suppose so. But I think that it is not in the interest of politicians and governments in the Middle East to admit they understand my cartoon. People that I have spoken with are very intelligent and intellectual -- but for political reasons, they don't want any interpretations of this cartoon other than their own. It is more convenient in their domestic policy to keep up with what I would call a misunderstanding.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In March, you told us how difficult life for you has become -- that you have to move often and that you are under constant police protection. Now the fallout from the cartoon looks like it will limit your life outside of Denmark, too.

Westergaard: Yes, I am aware. But I have been around the world in my day, so I don't need to go abroad as often anymore. Not in the Muslim world, anyway.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you sometimes feel like a martyr for press freedom?

Westergaard: No, I feel like a cartoonist who has only done his job. All the police protection and the fact that my house has been transformed into a fortress means I feel rather safe. I have the best cooperation with the Danish Secret Service. It is possible to live a very good life, anyway. And I have one advantage: I am 73 years old. At this age, you are not so afraid anymore.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even after Danish police broke up a plot to kill you in February? Did that not scare you?

Westergaard: Of course, it is scary. But the feeling that I have is anger. Anger is a very positive feeling when you are threatened. Then you feel that you strike back. So my feeling of anger about being threatened just for doing my job is a good thing.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you thought about making your problems a central issue in your cartoons? Or even a book?

Westergaard: No, I don’t think I'll do it. When I talk to you or other media I have the chance to express and explain myself.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your cartoon came out almost three years ago now. Has the entire process changed your outlook on the world?

Westergaard: When I was young, I experienced fascism and communism. These -isms also created fanatics. So I understand the fanatic. There is one feeling that he doesn't possess: doubt. Yes, doubt is something very difficult. But in a way it is also a dynamic feeling that changes the world. I don't allow fanatics to intimidate me. I want to enjoy the rest of my life. I have not changed my attitude: I am still an angry old man, threatened just because he has done his job.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Lawyer and filmmaker Geert Wilders shot his anti-Islam movie "Fitna," in the Netherlands, not far from you. He has been summoned to Jordan as well. Have you spoken with him about it?

Westergaard: He contacted me, in fact, after I complained publicly that he had abused my cartoon in his film. So we agreed that he pay me a kind of compensation, and he has removed the cartoon from the movie. I have no problems with him, but I don’t share his view.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Had you known then what you know now -- given all that has happened to you -- would you have published that cartoon?

Westergaard: I have also been thinking a lot about that question. Yes, I am quite convinced that I would.

Interview conducted by Yassin Musharbash


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